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Why, even now, Republicans will once again block gun reforms

In 2018, Donald Trump said the NRA and the rest of the gun lobby has “great power” over Republicans. Four years later, too little has changed.


President Joe Biden spoke from the White House yesterday about the latest deadly school shooting, and stressed the need to turn grief into action. “As a nation, we have to ask: When in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby?” the Democrat asked. “When in God’s name will we do what we all know in our gut needs to be done?”

The president went on to say in his televised remarks, “Don’t tell me we can’t have an impact on this carnage.... It’s time to turn this pain into action. For every parent, for every citizen in this country, we have to make it clear to every elected official in this country: It’s time to act. It’s time for those who obstruct or delay or block the common sense gun laws, we need to let you know that we will not forget.”

During his brief, seven-minute address, Biden referenced “common sense” four times.

The presidential remarks came on the heels of related comments from Sen. Chris Murphy, who spoke on the Senate floor yesterday, pleading with Republicans to consider policies that might save Americans’ lives. “I’m here on this floor to beg, to literally get down on my hands and knees and beg my colleagues. Find a path forward here. Work with us to find a way to pass laws that make this less likely,” the Connecticut Democrat said.

Murphy went on to ask his fellow senator, “What are we doing? Why do you spend all this time running for the United States Senate, why do you go through all the hassle of getting this job, of putting yourself in position of authority, if your answer as the slaughter increases, as our kids run for their lives, is we do nothing? What are we doing? Why are you here if not to solve a problem as existential as this?”

At a minimum, lawmakers will at least have an opportunity to take action. The New York Times reported overnight:

Within hours of the shooting in Uvalde, Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, moved to clear the way to force votes in coming days on legislation that would strengthen background checks for gun purchasers, pushing to revive measures with broad appeal that Republicans have blocked in the past.

At issue are bills, which have already passed the Democratic-led House, which would expand criminal background checks and extend waiting periods.

In theory, both measures enjoy majority support in the House, majority support in the Senate, majority support among American voters, and the White House’s backing.

But in practice, those truths won’t make a legislative difference: In the modern Senate, where most bills require supermajorities to advance, those hoping to curtail gun violence will need at least 10 Republican votes.

And no one seriously believes such a goal is realistic, at least not anytime soon. The Times also reported:

Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, said on Tuesday that he was “horrified and heartbroken” by the elementary school shooting in Texas that killed at least 18 children and a teacher, but the Kentucky Republican, like many others in his party who publicly expressed their dismay, gave no indication that he was dropping his longstanding opposition to gun control measures.

The report added that there was “little sign” that yesterday’s massacre in a Texas elementary school “would spur any change in the G.O.P. position.”

USA Today, citing statistics from the K-12 School Shooting Database at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security, reported that there were 249 shootings on school grounds last year. With 137 such incidents this year, we’re on pace to exceed last year’s total.

By all appearances, this is a level of violence that the vast majority of Republican policymakers considers tolerable. I am curious, though, if there’s a threshold that might lead GOP officials to reconsider.

At least 19 children and two teachers were killed yesterday in Uvalde, Texas. Some of the identified victims were as young as nine years old. It’s been about a decade since the United States saw a school massacre this deadly.

But if such carnage happened even more frequently, would Republicans reconsider their obstinance? What if there were school shootings like this once a year? Or once a season? Or once a month?

Is there literally any set of conditions that might lead GOP lawmakers to say, “I’ve changed my mind; now is the time to approve new laws to prevent gun violence”?

That's not a rhetorical question.

After the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, four years ago, Donald Trump went so far as to mock his ostensible Republican allies for being “afraid” and “petrified” of the NRA and its cohorts. “They have great power over you people,” the then-president told members of his own party.

A day later, Trump welcomed NRA representatives into the Oval Office. He soon after abandoned everything he’d said previously about gun reforms he briefly supported.

In the four years since, the Republican Party has moved even further to the right. The likelihood of 10 GOP senators supporting meaningful, life-saving reforms is poor — and if Republicans make significant gains in this year's midterm elections, as seems likely, the prospects for reforms will end altogether for quite a while.